ANN ARBOR, Mich. – When Shea Patterson trudged off the field in Madison, Wisconsin, two months ago, the weight of the college football world was on his shoulders.
Patterson plays quarterback at the University of Michigan. He was a five-star recruit four years ago and a high-profile transfer two years ago. He plays under one of the most polarizing head coaches in sports during one of the most scrutinized times in program history.
And three games into his senior season, things weren’t going well.
Patterson had perhaps his worst game as a Wolverine that Saturday afternoon against Wisconsin. He completed just 14 of 32 passes -- a Michigan career-low 43.8% -- with two turnovers and two meaningless touchdowns scored after Michigan had already fallen down 35-0.
Michigan was the butt of every joke that week, and Patterson, as the senior starting quarterback, drew much of the ire. His first three games were, admittedly, disastrous. Patterson fumbled five times and committed five turnovers those first three games. He added another interception against Rutgers, and then another against Iowa -- a game in which Michigan scored just 10 points.
The cries for Dylan McCaffrey, and even Joe Milton, to replace Patterson were deafening after the Wisconsin loss. His struggles in the Iowa game added fuel to the fire. Fans who had heard about the potent new offensive scheme all summer were fed up. To be fair, some of that was warranted.
But Jim Harbaugh never wavered when asked about the quarterback position. Patterson was his guy, turnovers and inaccuracy be darned.
Slowly but surely, Patterson started to reward his head coach’s trust.
The first sign of life came during the Rutgers game, when Patterson immediately rebounded from the Wisconsin debacle by completing 17 of 23 passes for 276 yards and rushing for three touchdowns. He threw one touchdown pass, and his only interception came on a well-placed jump ball to Nico Collins.
All in all, it was an excellent performance. But it was against Rutgers, so it meant very little, especially after the offense went dormant once again the following week.
Patterson went out and scored four more touchdowns in the road win against Illinois, passing for 194 yard and three scores while rushing for another.
Then, he posted his guttiest performance of 2019 in a road loss to Penn State.
Patterson nearly helped Michigan overcome a 21-point deficit, completing 24 of 41 passes for 276 yards despite six drops by his receivers. He ran the ball 12 times for 34 yards and a score. In the end, he even put the tying touchdown pass right in the arms of his most reliable target -- Ronnie Bell -- but that, too, was dropped.
He was more of a game manager in Michigan’s drubbings of Notre Dame and Maryland. Sloppy, wet conditions made passing difficult against Notre Dame, but Patterson still managed to toss a pair of touchdown passes. He took a back seat to the running backs at Maryland, methodically leading Michigan to a 38-7 victory.
The overall numbers weren’t eye-popping, but anyone paying attention could see Patterson rounding back into his 2018 form. He turned the ball over just once in four games while racking up eight total touchdowns. His accuracy steadily improved. He started to make more plays with his legs. All signs pointed toward Patterson finishing the season on a high note.
That all came to fruition Saturday in one of Michigan’s most important games: Michigan State.
Patterson shattered Tom Brady’s record for passing yards by a Michigan quarterback against the Spartans, completing 24 of 33 attempts for 384 yards and four touchdowns. He absorbed four sacks and a vicious late hit without missing a step, calmly leading eight straight scoring drives as Michigan ran away from its in-state rival.
Suddenly, his numbers are starting to look very Patterson-like. He’s thrown 16 touchdown passes compared to just four interceptions. He’s averaging an even 8 yards per pass attempt. The completion percentage -- though still well below last season’s 64.6% -- is trending back toward 60%.
Patterson finally looks as advertised in this up-tempo, big-play offense -- and it’s just in time for the most important stretch of the season.
His Michigan legacy will largely depend on what happens two weeks from now when Michigan hosts undefeated Ohio State. But we don’t need to wait that long to realize Harbaugh made the right call sticking with his senior through some early turbulence.
Patterson has earned the confidence of his teammates and the support of the fan base. Now he’s got three more games to cap off what’s been a strong Michigan career.